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By: CottonRhetoric, Cotton Rhetoric
Feb 13 2023 10:13am
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So your favorite format (vintage cube) just ended and you're looking for ways to play with old cards. May I present to you... pre-Mirage drafting.

1996's Mirage of course was the first set designed with limited in mind. So drafting with the nine sets before it is not exactly balanced. Half the cards are not even playable. But that's what makes it fun! And after reading this article series, you will be all set to navigate these bizarre environments.

I will cover all nine sets, not chronologically but by how well they exemplify certain concepts. First up is Antiquities! 

 

 

Not sure how to draft a non-sanctioned format? Click here.
  1. Find people who will draft with you. Discord and Reddit can help.
  2. Set up the draft portion on https://mtgadraft.tk/
  3. Coordinate a time for everyone to draft together. (For groups smaller than eight, bot drafters can fill in the gaps.)
  4. Buy the necessary singles for your decks, and play 1:1 freeform games on the MtGO client!

If buying them sounds daunting, keep in mind: with very few exceptions, these cards are only cents each.

As for cards that don't exist online, that is up to your group's house rules to determine. Common solutions are using substitutions (Goblin Cannon instead of Rocket Launcher) or banning the cards outright (Tempest Efreet).

 

 

 

 

 

Antiquities (1994)

With only 85 unique cards, this set is pretty easy to learn. Even more so since half of those are colorless, leaving only SEVEN cards in each color. But before I do my isolated commentaries, I'd like to review the defining principle of this and many other pre-Mirage sets:

Do not draft toward a curve. Draft toward quality.

You can forget about quadrant theory while drafting these sets. Nothing meaningful can happen while Developing, Winning, or Losing. You only need to think about what you can do while at Parity. Stalemates are nearly inevitable. Tempo is obsolete. The question you should ask yourself before taking a card is simply, "Will this be good on turn 5?" You might open a two-drop that would flesh out an aggro deck in a more recent set, but there are no aggro decks here. That two drop doesn't have a function. A perfectly acceptable strategy is not casting your first spell until turn 4. Do not think about a traditional mana curves when assembling your deck.

& some notes unique to Antiquities: 81 of the 85 cards either are artifacts or have the word "artifact" on them (the other four are nonbasics.) So if you're looking at a card that counters an artifact spell and wondering how relevant that will be: very relevant. (Assuming you are drafting triple Antiquities, and not mixing packs from different sets.)

There are only two real archetypes in triple Antiquities: midrange artifacts and defensive artifacts. Whatever color(s) you pick, games will be defined by seas of Dragon Engines, Yotian Soldiers, and Clay Statues. Maybe your goal is to break through the opponent's defense bit by bit, or maybe it's to buttress your own while going for the Millstone victory, but there are no other viable options.

Dragon Engine Yotian Soldier Clay Statue
These three cards basically define every game in this format.

As for mana fixing, there is exactly NONE, giving you three main ways to build:

  • Standard: two colors of choice with a bunch of artifacts
  • Sophisticated: ~3 of each Urza's land, a bunch of artifacts, and one color
  • Volatile: three colors, each as a "splash"

Let's review the colors, with a power rating out of 5.

 

White

    Circle of Protection: Artifacts

Commons:

Uncommons:

& the rare:

Aaaand that's every white card! I told you this set was small. All in all not a great color: two playable cards and neither at common. But that is a pattern you'll be noticing.

 

Blue

    Reconstruction

Commons

Uncommons

  • Energy Flux: In a typical deck, 0.5. But it can be strong in the Urza's land deck, where you can pay more easily than your opponent, or some janky UG deck that doesn't have many artifacts in it. But in that case, you'd want multiple of these, as your deck won't be good without it.
  • Power Artifact: 0.5 (Its best combos are Dragon Engine and (Rocket Launcher), but even then it's rarely worth a card.)
  • Transmute Artifact: 3 (with the right support; most decks don't want it)

& the rare

The worst color in the set. Can accomplish some things, but not much.

 

Black

   

Commons

Uncommons

& the rare

  • Yawgmoth Demon: 5 (I am certain Yawgmoth Demon is the best card in the set. Nothing can beat it in combat. And it's not an artifact, so you can't hit it with Crumble or Phyrexian Gremlins. There are only two clean answers to it: one is rare (Tawnos's Coffin) and the other takes twelve mana (Rocket Launcher). Yes, the upkeep is significant, but not nearly as significant as the 6 (usually) unblockable damage per turn this represents. The only options for the opposing player are to race it (difficult) or stymie it in the air while its upkeep runs out of fuel (even more difficult, with very few fliers in the set.) All in all, yes, P1P1 this over everything, including other rares if you're doing some weird variant format with multiple rares per pack.)

Having the best common in the set already makes black the best color in the set; having the best rare is gravy.

 

Red

    Artifact Blast

Commons

Uncommons

& the rare

Three solid cards, and one at common. Red's good.

 

Green

    Argothian Pixies

Commons

  • Argothian Pixies: 2 (The dream of sneaking this through doesn't come up often. Most decks have some random colored creatures to block with. View it more as a wall with occasional upside.)
  • Argothian Treefolk: 1.5 (Unlike their smaller cousins, these can be blocked by artifact creatures, for instance the ubiquitous Yotian Soldier, making them an expensive wall in most games.)
  • Crumble4

Uncommons

  • Citanul Druid: 2 (Will take over some games, but usually does nothing.)
  • Powerleech: 0.5
  • Titania's Song: 1 (In most decks, unplayable. In a focused deck you build around it: fun but weak. Sadly, this just lacks support.)

& the rare

Only one good common and no good uncommons, but that common is good enough to justify moving in.

 

Artifacts

   

Commons

Uncommons

  • Armageddon Clock: 0.5 (Oof! So expensive to do nothing. I would never run this unless it's for Xenic Poltergeist or Titania's Song, and even then as a meme.)
  • Phyrexian Altar: 0.5
  • Ashnod's Battle Gear: 2 (Really needs to be built around.)
  • Ashnod's Transmogrant: 1 (So few targets! And cannot be used in multiples. And opens the target up to artifact removal. It is acceptable filler if you need some cheap artifacts to sustain a Yawgmoth Demon I suppose.)
  • Cursed Rack: 0.5 (I cannot imagine getting this out early enough for its ability to matter. Titania's Song memes only.)
  • Feldon's Cane: 0.5 (Even against a Millstone deck I'd rather use the slot for more offense.)
  • Ivory Tower: 1.5 (Maybe in the most defensive of Millstone decks.)
  • Jalum Tome: 3.5
  • Mightstone: 1 (I guess as sideboard against the Millstone decks.)
  •     Millstone
  • Millstone: 3 (The one card to justify being built around! If you can create a good enough defense and get one of these going, your opponent only has a few chances to topdeck their Crumble or Phyrexian Gremlins. Then again, most decks do have cards like that, so this isn't exactly a top tier strategy. It can work though. My advice would be to have more than one in your deck, and maybe even a Transmute Artifact.)
  • Onulet: 1 (Worse than the common artifact creatures.)
  • Primal Clay4 (Oh wow. The 2/2 flier is outstanding in this format. So few decks can block it. The other two modes can come up in desperate spots, but this is mostly for the flier.)
  • Rakalite: 1.5 (Absurdly overpriced. Yet... in a certain stalemate situation, this plus a nice body can sort of impersonate The Abyss. Poorly. But it could matter.)
  • Rocket Launcher: 2.5 (Late game only, but you're likely to reach the late game in this format. Obviously best with Urza's lands.)
  • Su-Chi: 3.5 (The most efficient stats in the format... but still only marginally better than the common artifact creatures.)
  • Tawnos's Wand: 2 (Compare this to Primal Clay, which already is an unblockable 2-powered creature for 4 mana and without needing an activation cost or a second card. Still, this plus Dragon Engine can go off, especially in the late game or with Urza's lands.)
  • Tawnos's Weaponry: 2 (Can matter, but not much.)
  • The Rack: 2 (Usually good for a few damage. Can cause your opponent to hold some lands in hand, preventing their Dragon Engines from growing as much as they would. Still, pretty meh.)
  • Wall of Spears: 1.5 (OK but I'd usually rather have any of the three common artifact creatures.)
  • Weakstone: 1 (Millstone decks only in my opinion.)

Rares

Colossus of Sardia Tawnos's Coffin Urza's Miter

See! There is a lot of power in this set. It's just that you don't see it often because it's rare, and it's colorless so every deck wants it and it always gets first picked.

 

Lands

Uncommon

  • Mishra's Factory: 3
  • Strip Mine: 2 (Weird to rate this card so low, as it's so great in most formats, but in ol' 18-land tempo-irrelevant Antiquities, it rarely does much.)
  • Urza's Mine, Urza's Power Plant, Urza's Tower: 2.5 (Absoutely viable. Try to get at least three of each, and minimize your color requirements. Once you're in this lane, don't worry about building around it, as most of its best combos are cards you'd want to run anyway.)

Rare

  • Mishra's Workshop: 3 (Another surprising rating, as this does ramp out some beaters quite fast, but that's rarely how you win in this format. Remember: quality over tempo. A turn one Dragon Engine isn't much better than a turn three one. 

And that's the whole set! Give it a try, and check back later for HOT TECH on the other eight pre-Mirage sets.